When it comes to the hot-button issue of abortion, I do not consider myself to be pro-choice. Not strictly, anyway. That may seem surprising coming from a very liberal, moderately educated, completely out and proud gay man with a massive Catholic chip on his shoulder, but nonetheless. In the ongoing battle between those who believe in a woman’s right to choose and those who believe in an unborn child’s right to life, I find myself standing with seemingly few compatriots in a kind of barren demilitarized zone between the two long warring camps
In many ways I used to believe that, as a man, it was simply not my battle. In addition, as a gay, HIV-positive, fallen Catholic who was not in a position to propagate, I assumed that my opinion on the subject was probably of little interest to anyone who actually had a uterus or carried a crucifix. And while sharing the unlikely story of how I came to be a father continues to be my primary goal here, my presence at our baby’s first-trimester ultrasound – which actually occurs at this point in the narrative – prompts me to consider how I might respond to the highly divisive question, when does life begin?
Politically the conflict continues to grow, and the rights secured for women by Roe v. Wade seem to be forever in a precarious balance. Many people are content to make cerebral delineations about the existence of life based on trimester and presumed viability, while others quote the bible and employ horrific pictures to support their morally righteous claims. And in the end – now more than ever – we seem to be herded into one extreme camp or the other with no option except yea or nay. For me, neither one of those exclusionary absolutes ever felt right. So, rather than entering the fray, I chose a quiet and isolated middle ground hoping that someday emissaries from both sides might venture out to engage me in some levelheaded negotiations. I imagined that during this peaceful summit both factions would lay down their ideology and idealism – just for a time – and inflammatory words like murder and incest would not be lobbed back and forth like accusatory grenades.
Not surprisingly, still I wait. It feels lonely out here sometimes. It has, however, afforded me some quiet time to reflect on the matter. And I have come to a few personal conclusions.
First, I believe as long as this remains an either/or debate, little critical progress will be made. For me, critical progress means a substantial decrease in the number of procedures that are performed each year, and a substantial increase in the number of resources that are available to those people who find themselves in difficult, frightening, and often dangerous circumstances.
In addition, I think that everyone – regardless of their intention or ability to reproduce – should have their voice heard. This is not exclusively a woman’s issue. This is a broad and basic human dilemma and we all need to be involved in an ongoing, respectful, and open-minded dialogue. A far-fetched notion you may say, but in recent years I have grown to be a big believer in the heretofore improbable.
You see, it took a long time for me to wholly wrap my head around the idea that my planted seed was beginning to grow. Because of my HIV, I had for many years believed that my ability to biologically father a child was contaminated far beyond reclamation. On the day of our eight-week prenatal checkup, however, I saw the black and white evidence of something miraculous. Fatherhood for me was suddenly more than just possible. The sound of our child’s beating heart made the whole parental scenario seem downright inevitable. Looking at that monitor, I knew that we were only a very short way into the process, and that any number of things could go wrong along the way – but there it was. It was tiny, yes, but according to the technician it was thriving. And more than anything else in the world, I wanted it to be OK. And – in my way – I prayed. Yes, sometimes I still do that.
Looking back on that day now, I realize that – at 8 weeks gestation – our developing little embryo was well within the legally acceptable window for termination. It would not be physically viable for another few months. Would an abortion at that juncture have ended a life? In my view? Undeniably yes. Can it be argued that perhaps I only regarded my child to be a life at that early stage simply because I wanted him so intensely? I would say no. I would posit that a life is a life, regardless of whether or not it is wanted. Being loved does not determine existence. Life simply is. That is what I would say. But that is me.
I am a devout believer in personal freedoms, but realistically considering the staggering obliteration of possibility leaves me profoundly sad. So here I am stuck in the middle, and still perpetually unsatisfied with the incendiary propaganda that is continually being cannoned over my head from one angry faction or the other. And here I choose to publically confess and forgive myself for historically defaulting to a generalized democratic agenda when I am holed up in the confines of a voting booth. I acknowledge and respect the complexity of this issue. For me. For all of us.
And more than anything, I am thankful. I am thankful that I have been blessed with a life that has had many beginnings. My life. Yes, on some microscopic level I believe that life for me did begin in the womb of my mother. And life began again for me when I was born into the world. It began again when I first felt love, and the first time I recovered from a broken heart. My life began once in a dark theatre when I discovered the powerful nature of art. And for sure my life began again one hot day in the middle of the desert when someone asked if I might consider being a dad. It continues to begin now more readily than ever – with new love and renewed hope. It begins sometimes in the quiet, when my son’s voice cries out for reassurance and I am there to give it. And when my child lays his head down to sleep on my shoulder, my life begins again.
Perhaps out here in this quiet place between the ongoing uproar of us versus them, I have come to believe that the miracle of life really has no singular, definable spark. Maybe life is just a never-ending series of new beginnings; every one as significant and sacred as the one that came before.